« Back to life, back to reality (I am certain I have used that title before, but hey, I like recycling!) | Main | I cannot imagine why more people don't want to live here »

September 3, 2008

Word to your fiscal!

Doesn't "fiscal" sound like something you'd need antibiotics to cure?

September brings me to month four of Not Buying Stuff. Ya'll may remember my mid-year resolution to stop buying crap for the rest of the year? You may be wondering if I am through with my Bloomindale's DTs yet. Well, I still have a ways to go until January 1, 2009 but I think I am making progress in my desire to buy less stuff.

The main premise of the resolution was to have a break from consumerism and buy only essentials from June 1st to the end of 2008. I decided early on that gifts for other people were excluded, as they are essential and I love buying gifts. And then about mid-June I decided books were essential, too, because I love books! I need books. So that was my plan and I think I've done fairly well with some little blips along the way:

1) Magazines. DAMN YOU GLOSSY TEMPTRESSES. Early on in the summer I bought a couple of magazines at the grocery store without even thinking about it -- didn't even realize I'd gone off my non-essential lists until I got home. I believe this is what they call "shopping on autopilot." Since then I've only bought one magazine, bringing my addiction level to tolerable on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

2) Clothes. I underestimated the amount of work I have piled up before me at all times and simultaneously ignored my labyrinthine commute while also vastly overestimating the amount of free time in my life ... and ended up with no lovely handmade dresses to wear to any weddings (PLURAL) I had to attend this summer and had to buy something on my lunch break one day. It happens. Go judge silently to yourselves.

3) However, have solved this issue by declaring I will attend no more weddings for the next decade (!!!) unless it is a direct blood relative who I adore. Also, in unrelated news, I am SO DONE with weddings.

4) Replacement electronic devices. This one is an iffy category, because it was an unexpected (and sad-making) event in which my ipod and headphones were lost on the commuter bus never to be seen again. To many people an ipod is not an essential and I myself tried to rationalize not buying a replacement, deciding I would buy it for myself (again) as a Christmas present (AGAIN.) But after a few weeks of commuting without my beloved cocoon of headphones and ipod, I was about thisclose to killing every human who breathed on mass transit in Los Angeles county and decided that as long as I am sitting on some form of mass transportation for almost four hours a day, an electronic happy-making device is a FREAKING NECESSITY. So I bought another one. This time, though, I bought a refurb model from the Apple store and used my rewards card for the purchase so all is well that ends with me not killing anyone on the bus.

- - -

And that's about all the off-plan spending I've done since June 1st, which is pretty damn good. I don't feel like I've been missing out on anything, to be honest I don't think I realized just how much time I used to spend each weekend driving a shopping cart up and down every single aisle of Target. Now I go to Target about once every month for just basic household supplies and I don't buy anything off my list. I haven't been to the mall in a loooong while. It's good, it's giving me the extra time I need to read all those books I decided were essential!

So far, the main upsides of my decision are time and cash. I haven't been spending like crazy so my credit cards are happy things, not crazy-making anxiety-producing things, and I don't feel pressured to go out to the mall for this or run to Target for that or go to Macy's just because I got a 25% off coupon. (By the way, is Macy's ALWAYS on sale? Half my recycle bin is Macy's fliers!)

From now until the end of the year I want to make a few adjustments, especially since I can tell with my automotive intuition that my car is about to need a repair costing one million dollars. For one thing, I'd like to manage the rest of 2008 without a library fine. I mean really now. And lately I noticed I haven't been really aggressive with budgeting my grocery shopping but I'm going to try to be more conscious of that in the time remaining here in resolutionland.

The biggest thing I decided to change is lunch -- I'm going to bring my lunch to work every day for the rest of the year. There's just not any time or energy left in me at night to make lunch so it requires a bit of planning and forethought on my weekends, and usually I do OK but lately I've been busy on the weekends (or not even in town) and when I'm not prepared for brownbagging it I can rack up $40 in no time flat just on eating junk in the middle of the day. I know that if I bring my lunch every day I save money AND I eat healthier so I just have to commit to planning ahead each weekend. I made a red bean stew over the long weekend that I can take for lunch each day this week and you know, it has kale in it, so it's not as delectable and tasty as McDonald's french fries but it's not half bad either especially with a big dose of hot sauce. Plus I averaged it out and this stew cost me about eighty cents a serving. NOT BAD.

Also, I made STEW people. That required COOKING.

So my summer of no-spend has gone along fairly well, with fall and winter still to come. When things feel crazy and out of control and unstable, it always feels good to establish a zone of control and for me it's easiest in the arena of finances. I've discovered through trial and error that the number one way to get on top of things is just to stop spending, even if it's just for one week. You can always use a budget (like my excel budget template) to track your spending and your income and see what's left over or where you need to cut back. But the quickest and easiest way I've found to get a handle on it is just to stop buying stuff, immediately. It's always nice to feel in control of the ol' fiscal health, and I didn't even need to see the doctor for it!

Posted by laurie at September 3, 2008 8:48 AM